The traditional high school environment isn’t for everyone. Just ask 19-year-old Demry Polum, who decided to enter the Auto Body Rebuilding and Refinishing program at Bates Technical College as a high school senior.
“A traditional high school environment wasn’t working, and I have always wanted to work with cars, so I transferred,” Polum says. “And it’s been a great experience.”
Through the Technical High School program at Bates in Tacoma, Wash., high school students can earn their diploma while earning a college degree or certificate, tuition-free. Demry is set to graduate in August with an associate in applied science degree and her high school diploma.
“When I found out about the Technical High School at Bates, I knew this was the perfect opportunity to do something that spoke to me,” Polum explains in The Insider, Bates Technical College’s blog.
Through the Auto Body Rebuilding and Refinishing program at Bates, students can earn an associate of applied science degree or a certificate of competency in auto body repair or automotive refinishing.
“Students prepare for apprenticeship employment in the auto body rebuilding and refinishing industry, serving independent auto shops, automotive dealerships, government agencies, utility firms and other companies that maintain vehicle fleets,” the Bates website explains. “Positions include auto body repairer, automotive refinisher, frame repairer, glass installer, painter, renovator and shop estimator.”
Polum says she’d like to open her own shop someday, and she isn’t the least bit intimidated by the prospect of working in a male-dominated field. Her grandmother was a truck driver for five years, and her mother has been in the industry for 15 years.
Because her mother worked long hours, Polum’s grandmother tended to her and her three siblings. She recalls tinkering with items around the house, pulling things apart and putting them together to see how they functioned.
“Grandma always taught me that women can do the same thing men can,” Polum says. “If my mom and grandma could handle working in a mostly male industry, then I can handle it too.”
When she started the program, she was the sole female. Now there are three others.
“I love that there are more girls in the program,” she says. “I like being able to see that there are others like me out there, who are able to say to the world, ‘You can’t tell me I can’t do this.’ It’s been awesome having them there.”
Polum, who also works at a restaurant five days a week, lights up when she talks about painting cars.
“I love watching cars transform from their bashed, broken and battered state when they come into the shop, and then leaving looking like a masterpiece,” she says. “That’s my art – to paint and blend a part of a car so that it matches perfectly with the rest of it. I consider that an art, and it’s what I love doing.”